Current Employment: Asset Trust Management, Fund Manager
Independent Trader, global financial markets
Education: Bachelor’s Degree Business Administration: Edith Cowan, Perth, Australia
MBA: Bradford MBA program, Management Development Institute of Singapore
Return to Sri Lanka
Stefan and his family migrated to Singapore when he was 11 in the early 1990’s. He only returned back to the island in 2011, after spending almost half his life schooling and working abroad in Singapore and Australia.
His decision to move back to Sri Lanka was a desperate attempt to boost his career. Looking back he says “it was one of the best decisions I have made.”
In 2011, it was becoming too expensive to run a business upstart and live in Singapore and that’s when he made the decision to move back to Sri Lanka, thus giving up his life and home to pursue his dreams. He had previously worked at MAS Holdings for a period of two years (2003- 2005) immediately after graduating from university so was accustomed to the work culture one might expect to find here in Sri Lanka. He permanently moved back to the Island in 2011 and initially secured a role at Barleet Religare Securities and thereafter at Markets Never Lie.
Now in his early 30’s he is an independent trader and fund manager who trades his own capital along with a few client funds in global capital markets such as commodities, currencies and stock markets across the world.
Stefan had many job while growing up in Singapore and Australia, ranging from bar tending, waiter, teaching, construction, telemarketing and many more. Some of his previous positions of employment in Singapore include brokering at the GFI Group, sales at Standard Chartered Bank, and trader at Asian Trading Solutions.
The turning point in his life came in his 20’s where he found his life’s calling in the financial markets. After completing his MBA in Singapore he joined the ever competitive financial industry and again had many roles ranging from brokering, Sales and trading.
As the cheesy cliché goes people really played and worked hard in Singapore he says. He recalls his first job at the GFI group as a young broker on the trading floor. He was the board boy and had to do all the dirty work. He was not only sworn at on a daily basis but had plenty of objects thrown at him constantly. “You got to keep your emotions at the door when you enter the trading floor OR you just won’t make it out alive” he laughs. But the great thing was after work no matter if you were the toilet boy as he was or the head trader you all went out for drinks regularly and everything was forgotten. More so this was the time to learn the business he adds.
Most jobs in the markets require lots of work round the clock and the intensity of the role burns people out early in life. The compensation is better than most places in the world but the opportunity to work and network with a global community in a first world environment which is part of the global monitory system is priceless.
In 2010, Stefan decided to leave the corporate life to start his own trading firm with a few client funds under management. For some time he struggled in Singapore trying to get his business of the ground, which he soon realized was very challenging when trading his own capital with no salary and no institutional backing. This was when he made the decision to move back to Sri Lanka.
Thoughts on careers and professional development
Stefan currently has two roles; one as a fund manager where he has a local partnership with Asset Trust Management (Pvt) Ltd – This provides him with an official regulated license to trade client funds in the local equity and debt markets in Sri Lanka.
His second role is as an independent trader where he trades global markets with his own capital.
The Sri Lankan financial markets are in its infancy and in need for foreign capita /talent to help grow the industry. There are many opportunities in Investment banking, corporate finance/structuring, trading, private equity and Venture Capital.
We need fresh new capital to help boost investment into the SME sector, specifically technology related services where new ideas are born and die unfunded. He believes this area has huge growth potential for Sri Lanka. New venture capital funds can take advantage of such gaps in the market.
He strongly advises potential returnees to come back as entrepreneurs in order to capitalize on this opportunity.
Experience with Compensation and Living Expenses
The move to Sri Lanka reduced his fixed cost by 80% which gave him the stability and time required to attaining financial freedom.
The key for Stefan as a business owner is to always keep his fixed cost low. He still continues to live a very simple life, spending only on the absolute necessary. As an example he does not own a car and takes public transport everywhere to save on purchasing a depreciating asset. This has enabled him to own several global assets and grow his portfolio in global capital markets.
Over the next 5 – 7 years he plans to retire and will only trade his own capital. During the next phase of his life he will look to give back to society and have time to pursue his other passions, which will revolve around teaching, trading and providing capital to young entrepreneurs in rural communities.
“Bring your talents from overseas. Don’t think of coming back and working for someone as the salaries are low and the decisions and money are concentrated at the top of the pyramid” – he advises.
Opinions about work culture
Egos are big and talent is far from matching in some companies. Not all organizations will help you grow, especially if you don’t march to their tune you may have trouble fitting in to pre-colonial managerial attitudes.
There are of course many remarkable organizations such as MAS holdings and Asset Trust Management which will grow and nurture your talent, as they possess competitive corporate cultures and are fair pay masters. He strongly advices any returnees choosing a career path to make sure it’s the right one in the right company.
Take on quality of life
For Stefan his work is his life and accordingly he sees no big differences between Singapore and Sri Lanka on quality of life. He comments that travelling is easy since there are plenty of cabs and trishaws available. I tend to only travel during off peak hours so as to not get caught up in traffic he adds. These times on weekdays are between 9.30 am to 11.30 am, 2.30 pm and 4pm and after 8 pm. He advises not to step on the road during other hours or you may experience SL in a negative light.
The private healthcare for a 30 something year old is pretty decent. Some doctors may tend to think of themselves as god’s gift to society but most of them get the job done without much hassle. Having said that I hardly ever use any facilities and neither would anyone who is in decent shape.
Even though medical costs are pretty cheap compared to most places in the world, he strongly recommends everyone to get an overseas hospitalization cover which is about USD 1000 a year and covers you around the world ex USA for about a million USD. Do not get this policy from local insurer’s only foreign ones which are legal here in Sri Lanka.
The condo he lives in the city is as good as the apartments available in Singapore. He says that most days he sees no reason to leave his neighborhood or even the apartment. “I have a lap pool, fully equipped gym, bars, night clubs, super markets and plenty of restaurants walking distance away. What else does one need in life?
He strongly advises returnees to purchase a condo and not pay rent. Besides where you live, an investment idea would be to purchase apartments with reputable builders between LKR 8 to 16 million for the highest capital appreciation. They will appreciate the most over the next few years rather than the higher end condos he adds.
Advice for potential returnees
Stefan has always been in touch with friends and family in Sri Lanka, so moving back was not that hard. He advises potential returnees to keep 6-8 months aside to adjust to life on the island. However as you may experience in your 30s, groups and social acquaintances have already being formed and even though you might meet your old friends for a catch up a few times you might soon realize that you want to branch out and meet new people who have similar interests.
“One of the best ways to start expanding your social circle is to start dating again!!!”
This will ensure that you not only meet your better half’s friends and social groups but as it is customary in Sri Lankan you end up dating his or her entire family as well. This can be a pleasant experience if you happen to be back into the country alone as he was.
He also suggests pick up some hobbies such as cycling, running, card games, poker and other social activities which are growing in popularity in Colombo.
Sri Lanka is also big on social/charity clubs, societies and lodges. A vast array of choices lay ahead depending on what your interests are. If you happen to return from a developed country you may develop a strong desire to give back to society.
All in all getting back into the social swing of things is relatively easy as we Sri Lankans can be very hospitable and love to entertain. In summary living in Colombo is no different to living in any other major city in the world. For me family/friends and pursuing your dreams are more important than the place you live. Think about your life’s big picture, what makes you happy and don’t sweat the small stuff.